Colleges and universities across the country spent months forming plans to bring students back to campus. Testing measures, social distancing guidelines, and plans for housing students testing positive were just some of the factors administrations considered. One of the most important measures to take when striving to keep a large community of people safe, however, is early and routine detection of the virus.
A study published in July by researchers at Harvard and Yale recommends colleges test all students every two days, combined with extensive social distancing measures and robust plans for isolation and quarantine when necessary.
Many universities in the Northeast are testing students at least twice per week if those students live or attend class on campus. By doing so, these colleges have a fairly accurate picture of the number of cases within the student body as a whole. They can be reasonably certain that infected students can be effectively accounted for. The same is not true at Boston College.
Last week, from Sept. 7 to Sept. 13, BC administered 2,954 tests—2,647 of which were for undergraduates. The week before, BC administered 4,322 tests, with 3,837 of those being undergraduates.
BC began asymptomatic surveillance testing on Sept. 2 and has said that it will be conducting at least 1,500 of these tests per week. BC has said that community members in “high-contact” groups, such as employees at BC Dining or the Margot Connell Recreation Center, are being selected for these tests at a higher rate. BC also required students from high-risk states and countries to be tested twice during the first week.
Still, there are some students living on campus who have not been tested since their initial test in August during move-in.
The University has stated that it’s conducting contact tracing for people who may have come into contact with someone who tested positive, and it is requiring students to wear masks at all times when outside of their rooms. Classrooms are arranged for distancing, and dining halls have been modified to protect both workers and students. These practices, however, do not make up for how infrequently all students are being tested.
Boston University is testing all students who attend in-person classes or live on campus twice per week. Northeastern University is requiring students who live on campus or off campus in the surrounding area to be tested every three days. Northeastern’s seven-day test positivity rate is 0.06 percent, and Boston University’s is 0.05 percent, as of Sunday night.
Harvard, which only welcomed back a fraction of its students this semester, is testing between one and three times per week depending on housing and number of times per week an off-campus student has in-person classes. Harvard has a seven-day positivity rate of 0.09 percent as of Sunday.
Tufts is testing undergraduates twice a week, regardless of whether they live on campus, and it has a test positivity rate of 0.07 percent as of Sunday night. The University of Massachusetts Amherst has a weekly positivity rate of 0.01 percent as of Sunday night, and it also tests on-campus undergraduates and off-campus undergrads with on-campus classes twice per week. All of the aforementioned schools, with the exception of Boston University, use the Broad Institute for testing.
This past week, BC jumped to a 2.53 percent positivity rate among undergrads for the previous week after holding relatively steady low numbers, and The Boston Globe reported that at least 13 members of the swimming and diving team had tested positive. The current positivity rate is 67.
But because not all students are tested twice per week, that number does not account for the entire student population. The Broad Institute—the MIT and Harvard joint initiative that BC and over 100 universities currently use—has completed over 1,600,000 tests. The institute charges schools $25 for each test, meaning testing twice per week would cost $50 per student per week. It’s a cost the University should and must incur.
It should be noted that more testing is not fail-safe. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign requires all students to test twice-weekly. It locked down its campus two weeks ago after cases spiked after students who had tested positive, had knowledge of those positive results, and attended or even hosted parties. To be fair, there’s only so much a university can do if students commit short-sighted and selfish acts. But the university was able to quickly identify a problem because all of its students were tested so frequently.
It’s possible that BC’s positive test rate would be lower if all undergraduates were tested twice per week. Maybe the influx of tests would result in a higher negativity rate. There’s only one way to know for sure. To ensure the community is staying safe, Boston College needs to substantially increase its testing.
A group of Heights editors who are committed to participating in the consistent writing of editorials comprise the editorial board. Editors who report on topics discussed in editorials are not permitted to participate in the discussion or writing of the editorial. Members: Colleen Martin, Abby Hunt, Maddie Haddix, Brooke Kaiserman, Meegan Minahan, Jillian Ran, Danny Flynn, and Rachel Phelan.